It may be a child of God is reading these words who has had some great crushing sorrow, some bitter disappointment, some heart-breaking blow from a totally unexpected quarter. You are longing for your Master’s voice bidding you “Be of good cheer,” but only silence and a sense of mystery and misery meet you—“He answered her not a word.”
God’s tender heart must often ache listening to all the sad, complaining cries which arise from our weak, impatient hearts, because we do not see that for our own sakes He answers not at all or otherwise than seems best to our tear-blinded, short-sighted eyes.
The silences of Jesus are as eloquent as His speech and may be a sign, not of His disapproval, but of His approval and of a deep purpose of blessing for you.
"Why art thou cast down, O…soul?" Thou shalt yet praise Him, yes, even for His silence. Listen to an old and beautiful story of how one Christian dreamed that she saw three others at prayer. As they knelt the Master drew near to them.
As He approached the first of the three, He bent over her in tenderness and grace, with smiles full of radiant love and spoke to her in accents of purest, sweetest music.
Leaving her, He came to the next, but only placed His hand upon her bowed bead, and gave her one look of loving approval.
The third woman He passed almost abruptly without stopping for a word or glance. The woman in her dream said to herself, “How greatly He must love the first one, to the second He gave His approval, but none of the special demonstrations of love He gave the first; and the third must have grieved Him deeply, for He gave her no word at all and not even a passing look.
"I wonder what she has done, and why He made so much difference between them?" As she tried to account for the action of her Lord, He Himself stood by her and said: "O woman! how wrongly hast thou interpreted Me. The first kneeling woman needs all the weight of My tenderness and care to keep her feet in My narrow way. She needs My love, thought and help every moment of the day. Without it she would fail and fall.
"The second has stronger faith and deeper love, and I can trust her to trust Me however things may go and whatever people do.
"The third, whom I seemed not to notice, and even to neglect, has faith and love of the finest quality, and her I am training by quick and drastic processes for the highest and holiest service.
“She knows Me so intimately, and trusts Me so utterly, that she is independent of words or looks or any outward intimation of My approval. She is not dismayed nor discouraged by any circumstances through which I arrange that she shall pass; she trusts Me when sense and reason and every finer instinct of the natural heart would rebel;—because she knows that I am working in her for eternity, and that what I do, though she knows not the explanation now, she will understand hereafter.
“I am silent in My love because I love beyond the power of words to express, or of human hearts to understand, and also for your sakes that you may learn to love and trust Me in Spirit-taught, spontaneous response to My love, without the spur of anything outward to call it forth.”
He “will do marvels” if you will learn the mystery of His silence, and praise Him, for every time He withdraws His gifts that you may better know and love the Giver. —Selected
Letters keep coming from both men and women who are in a quandary about how one ought to move toward marriage. While I was sitting here, rereading some of them, a man phoned with a question about the same subject. I wonder what is happening. Why so much confusion? Here’s one of the letters:
"I’m a male Christian who needs help. I just ended a long-term ‘relationship’ with a non-Christian girl. I made plenty of compromises during those years, and by God’s grace I hope next time will be better. I read your book The Mark of a Man and was shown things I never knew before which blew my mind. I’m excited about the idea of sharing life with a girl in a way which would honor Jesus. At the same time I get scared about making bad moves, when to initiate, and financial fears about supporting a family if I’m a missionary, which at the moment I’m being directed to. These things may seem silly but they’re real to me. Could you address some issues which could benefit us guys who see marriage as a blessing and not as years of imprisonment?"
No, the questions do not seem silly to me—far from it. They are vital questions, and I’m glad there are men to whom they matter enough to pray about and ask counsel for.
I think one reason for confusion is the notion which arose, before the men who are now in their twenties and thirties were born, about the “equality” of the sexes. It is a word that belongs to politics but certainly not to courtship, a realm which concerns human beings in their entirety.
Another reason for confusion is misunderstanding the order which God established in the beginning. I’ve tried to explain that divine arrangement in two books: Let Me Be a Woman and The Mark of a Man. If men would be men, women could do a better job of being women (and vice versa, of course, but the buck really stops with the men). What does it mean to be a man?
Christ is the supreme example. He was strong and He was pure, because His sole aim in life was to be obedient to the Father. His very obedience made Him most manly—responsible, committed, courageous, courteous, and full of love. A Christian man’s obedience to God will make him more of a man than anything else in the world. Consider these qualities:
Responsibility. He must work out the salvation that God has given him “with a proper sense of awe and responsibility, for it is God who is at work” in him, giving him the will and the power to achieve His purpose (Philippians 2:12, 13, PHILLIPS). Man was made to be initiator, provider, protector for woman.
Commitment. He must be a man of his word, no matter what it costs. My father’s strong counsel to my four brothers: Never tell a woman you love her until you are ready to follow that immediately with, “Will you marry me?” In other words, a man’s love for a woman, if deep and abiding, leads to a lifetime commitment to her. Many heartaches would be avoided if he held back any expressions of love until he is ready to make that commitment. Once promised, he never goes back on that word.
Courage. A man must be willing to take the risks of rejection (she might say No), blame, and all that commitment costs.
Courtesy. A Christian’s rule of life should be: my life for yours. He is concerned about the comfort and happiness of others, not of himself. He does not seek to have his own needs met, his own image enhanced, but to love God, to make Him loved, and to lay down his life to that end. In small ways as well as great, he shows the courteous love of the Lord.
Purity. He must be master of himself if he is to be the servant of others. This means “buffeting” his body, bringing it into subjection, as Paul did. It means restraint, discipline, the strength to wait. It means an utter yielding to the will of God as revealed in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and 1 Thessalonians 4:2-8.
As I have heard the sad stories and studied what I call “The Dating Mess” of today, it appears to me that men have generally overlooked another vital matter which ought to precede all overtures in the direction of a prospective wife. If we assume that a man is an adult when he is eighteen (or twenty-one at the latest), he should by that time be giving marriage some serious thought. He should get down to brass tacks with God to find out if this may be a part of His agenda for him. This will take time, and it might help if during this period he simply quits dating and starts praying. As long as the answer is uncertain, don’t date. Does this sound extreme? It wasn’t my idea. I learned it from a group of young men who have chosen this way. It is a guaranteed way of avoiding sexual activity (always illicit outside of marriage), of preserving one’s wholeness and holiness, and of preventing the heartbreaks we see on every hand.
I urge you to trust God. He wants to give you the best. He will help you. He has promised to guide. He knows what you need. Ask Him to show you whether, when, and whom you should marry.
And don’t be alone in this. Ask counsel of your spiritual superiors who are wise, who know how to pray and how to keep silence. Take their counsel seriously. If they have suggestions as to a possible mate, take those very seriously. My own parents prayed for godly spouses for all six of us, and actually named before God the very people that four of us married.
Read Genesis 24, study the principles Abraham’s servant followed. Pray silently. Watch quietly.
Before you start dating, draw clear guidelines for yourself as to “how far to go.” The only truly safe line is a radical one, but it works: hands off and clothes on. If you think you can put the line somewhere else, remember that a little thing leads on to a bigger thing. A touch leads to a hug which leads to a kiss which leads to play which leads to consummation. That was how God intended the whole thing to work, but the idea of the “whole thing” was marriage and babies.
Can you trust yourself to quit once you start? The Bible says, “Flee youthful lusts.” Don’t toy with them.
When God has guided you* as to the whether, the when, and the whom, then you must choose to love and not to fear. The Will of God always involves risk and cost, but He is there with grace to help and with all the wisdom you need. Every deliberate choice to obey Him will—depend upon it—be attacked by the enemy. Never mind. Nothing new about that. Be a man and stick with it.